Monday, March 12, 2018

What I Can Do

“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can still do some things.
Just because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
—Edward Everett Hale, UUC minister

There are many times on our life when we feel overwhelmed. Sometimes it is when difficult things happen to us directly, and we know not why nor how to extricate ourselves from their power. Other times it is when we look at our surrounding environment, and feel powerlessly unable to make a difference. We may see so much that is wrong, so much that is in opposition to our values, and is destructive to that which we hold dear. We wonder, what can I do? What difference can I make? In a world of seven billion people, our individual self is a pitifully-sized army. How does one move a mountain when one can only lift a small stone?

We start by questioning our own view. Is that which we are protesting against, or advocating for, truly what we believe? If so, is that truly in our best interest, versus just being stuck in our old unquestioned thinking? Not all that looks “bad” is bad; not all that looks “good” is good. If we get clarity and pass that first step, our next question is, is it right for all others in all circumstances at all times? We are not they; their life is not our life. Is life a competition of winners versus sinners, or is life a cooperation of companionships walking in and out of our life?

Assuming we make it past this self-discussion, what do we do, if anything? Is doing “something” worthwhile, is it worth the perhaps seemingly futile effort? The answer is almost always “Yes” – IF our efforts are truly for the greater good toward others rather than just a cover story for our personal good. It is a Yes that begs for realistic perspective, which thereby obligates us to position ourselves properly and humbly.

“How can I help?”

Ram Dass, Buddhist teacher

Human beings are an impatient species. We are truly in a hurry to reach an endpoint and “change the world” from our own efforts. Action taken; objective accomplished; off to the next righteous goal. Yet the reality is that, in the larger scheme of things, we can each alone do very little on our own in this one lifetime. Lasting societal change and improvement in our human interactions take many lifetimes to accomplish. That is why human history teaches us that much of today is yesterday, and it has been this way throughout the human story. Only the dates, places and faces are changed.

Yet in other ways, things are different for more times, in more places, for more people. The march of civilization is a long march, but it is always moving forward, even if it is in a slow-time cadence with many left turns and temporary “about faces” along the way. In the larger course of time, our life is barely one half-step in that long cadence.

Our life can seem as of supreme importance; our lifetime a vast expanse of time. Yet our life is a speck in the mosaic of human history, a blip in God’s hourglass and calendar. So do we do nothing, out of despair that we cannot do it all? No, we simply acknowledge that we are that one slow cadence step, one more link in that necessary chain that drags human civilization along to its next milestone. We find our little spot in this landscape. We plant our seed to be grown there. Someone else may have to come along in a subsequent lifetime to water and fertilize our planting. A further somebody else may get to enjoy the forest that comes forth from our seedling. Some will find their place illuminated in the spotlight; most will toil in quiet anonymity. Understanding the inherent limits to our outcomes will keep all humble, but not prevent our making the effort.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees
whose shade they know they will never sit in.”

Greek Proverb

We place just one brick onto that rising cathedral that humanity is building. We place just one stone in the footpath to the future. It truly is about the journey, not the arrival. Our entire life is but one step in humankind’s journey – importantly unimportant and significantly insignificant. With these understandings, we give what we can, where we can, when we can. In that, we find peace and comfort. It is in the giving itself, from a pure intention, that we achieve. Just as the Universe intended.

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work,
but neither are you free to abandon it.”

©   2018   Randy Bell